Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Pioneer Gridblog Report Week 10

by Tom Condardo

Watertown Leftovers

Well now we know how the Atlanta Falcons fans felt last February. Just as they thought a 28-3 lead with a quarter and a half to play was enough to get them a Lombardi Trophy, most Pioneer fans believed a 34-24 lead with 2:55 to play was enough for the Pioneers to punch their ticket to the Division 5 State Semi-finals.

But just as someone forget to tell the Patriots the game was over, Watertown was just as forgetful, pulling out a dramatic, heartbreaking 38-34 win with 11 seconds to play.

Instead of folding after Tyler Murphy galloped in for a 29 yard touchdown, the Raiders went to work. They moved quickly going 56 yards in eight plays in just over a minute and a half. Nick McDermott hit big John Korte with a six yard TD pass and the lead was cut to 34-31 with 1:15 to play.

"We just couldn't make them use enough time on the drive," head coach Neal Weidman told me after the game.

Watertown still needed to get the ball back and they did so by executing a perfect onside kick. Conor "Superfoot" Kennelly bounced it to the left side where Korte came down with it right on the 50 yard line. An inch less and the play would have been called back, but every break seemed to be going Watertown's way at this point.

"They got a perfect hop and it hopped up to a 6' 5" kid," said Weidman.

After two McDermott incompletions, the Raiders faced a 3rd and 10 from the 50. They converted on a backbreaking completion from McDermott to Kennelly to the 13 yard line. Kennelly pulled down the pass with Peter Look draped all over him. He couldn't have defended it any better but the 6'1" Kennelly took advantage of a couple of inch height advantage to make an incredible catch.

Two plays later McDermott swept in from the six for the winning score.

The Watertown comeback should not have come as a surprise. It was the third straight playoff game on the road that they have crawled out of the grave to pull out a win. In the opening round, they overcame 21-7 Swampscott lead in the first half and a 27-24 lead at the end of three quarters. But McDermott hit Korte on an 86 yard bomb with just over five minutes to play to win 31-27.

They cut it closer the following week when McDermott hit Kennelly for a 26 yard TD pass with 12 seconds to play to upend Somerville 21-20. Then came the 11 second stake in the heart of the Pioneers.

Something tells me Dennis-Yarmouth may want to pay attention Friday night, especially if they have a lead on the Raiders late in the game.

And also, now that you have some empathy for the Falcon Faithful, you may want to think twice before pulling on one of those 28-3 tee shirts,.

Long Distance
Watertown's Kennelly has a big foot, but Raider coach John Cacace may have been pushing it when he had the senior attempt a 48 yard field goal midway in the fourth period. Kennelly had earlier boomed a 37 yarder easily into the win at the school side of the field and this one was with the wind at his back. The ball landed in the end zone to the left of the goal post and the Pioneers still led 28-24.

Rare Occurence
Friday night was only the third time in school history the Pioneers failed to win when scoring 34 or more points. Going into the game, their record when scoring 34 or more was 76-2. The only losses came on Thanksgiving Day 2011 and in 2013 against Danvers both by the score of 42-35.

It was so cold....
So how cold was it? It was 27 degrees at kickoff with a howling wind from the north making it feel like single digits.

I've covered over 400 high school football games and I can count on both hands the number of games I've done from the press box. I prefer to be on the sideline because a) I have to take photos for the Villager and b) I always felt I got a much better feel for the game, listening to the players, coaches, and referees interact.

For example, in the Newburyport playoff game, the Clipper score was widely reported as a touchdown by quarterback Owen Bradbury who appeared to sneak into the end zone. That wasn't the case. Bradbury fumbled at the goal line and a scramble ensued with Newburyport's Thomas Murphy recovering it in the end zone.

The only way I know that was because I was standing on the goal line, saw the action and realized something was up. When the official trotted over to the sideline for the extra point, I asked him if it was a fumble. He answered "Yep it was a fumble and #10 recovered it in the end zone."

Anyway, I prefer to be down where the action is and that was my plan Friday night. So I underarmoured up, heavy winter coat, couple of fleeces and assumed my regular post on the sideline. Unfortunately, I neglected to take into account that my trusty Bic 4 Color pen contains ink made mostly of at 27 degrees, guess what? Ink freezes. So as the first half wore on, my pen began to malfunction. So at halftime, I had to hightail it up to the heated press box so I could chart the second half.

In terms of cold games, the only ones I can remember that came close was the division championship game in Winthrop in 2014 but according to the Weather Underground web site, it was only 34 degrees that night.

But the coldest was probably Thanksgiving Day 2002. Lynnfield was hit with four inches of heavy wet snow the day before and a frigid cold front came in right behind it. The Middle School Field was a frozen tundra ringed with snowbanks and the game time temperature was 25. The difference, however, was that the temperature rose throughout the game to about 30 by the end and the game was played in sunshine. Friday night the temp dropped throughout the game landing at around 23 by the bitter end.

Ironically, that 2002 game also resulted in a stunning, last second Pioneer defeat. With 20 seconds left in the game, the Pioneers led 12-6. But the Hornets had the ball on the Lynnfield two yard line. NR quarterback Steve Labo took the snap from center, looked to pass, found no receiver, tucked the ball under his arm and spun into the end zone for what appeared to be the game tying touchdown.

Fortunately for the Pioneers, a motion penalty on North Reading wiped out the score and pushed the ball back to the Lynnfield seven yard line with seven seconds left on the clock. On the game's final play, Labo handed off to Hornet running back John Murphy who was quickly grabbed by Matt Talis behind the line of scrimmage.

Bottled up by Talis, Murphy shoveled the ball forward to Labo who was standing at the three yard line where he gathered it in and stumbled into the end zone to tie the score with all zeroes showing on the clock. Labo calmly booted the extra point as the frozen Pioneer faithful watched in stunned disbelief at a victory that got away.

The good news? Early forecasts for next Thursday calls for a partly sunny morning with temps in the upper 30's.

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